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About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design by David Cronin, Robert Reimann, Alan Cooper

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Chapter 24. Dialogs

As we discussed in Chapter 21, the hallmark of bad interaction design is a user interface that consists primarily of control-laden modal dialog boxes. It is very difficult to create fluid interactions by forcing users through a maze of dialogs. If a user is the chef, and the application is the kitchen, then a dialog box is the pantry. The pantry plays a secondary role, as should dialog boxes. They are supporting actors rather than lead players, and although they may ratchet the action forward, they should not be the engines of motion.

Appropriate Uses for Dialog Boxes

Dialogs are superimposed over the main window of the application. A dialog engages users in a conversation by offering information and requesting some input. When a user has finished viewing or changing the information presented, he has the option of accepting or rejecting his changes. The dialog then disappears and returns the user to the main application window.

Unfortunately, many users and programmers have come to think of dialog boxes as the primary user-interface idiom of the GUI (this is largely a result of the ease with which dialogs can be implemented). Many applications use dialogs to provide the main method of interaction with the program (and we’re not talking about simple applications that are composed of just a single dialog box; in those cases, the dialog assumes the role of a main window). In most applications, users are forced to bounce back and forth between the main window and its ...

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